U. Oklahoma students say tuition bill not needed

By Justin Noel Shimko, Oklahoma Daily
U. Oklahoma
Oklahoma City

As the tuition deregulation bill creeps closer to a State Senate vote, students are becoming lobbyists to prevent increases in the costs of education.

Citizens Opposed to Soaring Tuition, or COST, started lobbying against House Bill 1748 on Tuesday in front of the State Senate chambers in Oklahoma City. Richard Beck, chairman of COST, said it is an affordability issue.

"This bill will cause students to cease their education, resulting in an increased level of difficulty" in graduating more Oklahomans, Beck said.

Kelly Gray, treasurer of COST, said he and Beck have traveled to the Oklahoma State Capitol to urge senators to vote against H.B. 1748. The bill, written by state Rep. Bill Nations, D-Norman, would remove any tuition increase caps and let the universities' president and regents decide on the increase rate.

"As individuals, we received no help," Gray said. "As a group, we are hoping to get more attention to our cause."

Last Friday, Gray, Beck and Stephanie Green-Nichols, secretary of COST, formed the organization and circulated petitions on the University of Oklahoma campus for more students to join the cause. Beck said COST had 200 supporters by Tuesday morning.

COST has been working since Friday to articulate arguments against the bill. Some of the arguments focus on poor planning, Beck said.

"This bill does not take into consideration the current state of the economy or per capita income," the group's statement of purpose reads.

Nations said the funding in scholarships, such as the program implemented by OU President David L. Boren, will help people who cannot afford to go to school.

COST joins the Higher Education Association for Reform as another group opposed to Nations' bill.

Part of the lobbying effort includes providing alternatives to the tuition deregulation bill. One alternative would be to place a cap on attendance at OU.

"With the cap, there would be no need to increase tuition, and the university would present itself as a more prestigious school in the state," Beck said.

Beck and Gray will be lobbying again Wednesday, inviting anyone who is concerned about the tuition deregulation bill to join them in front of the Senate chambers.

"Education has separated the U.S.A. from the world," Beck said. "We need to make sure education remains available to all citizens."

The Senate will consider H.B. 1748 in committee next Wednesday and will vote Thursday, March 20.

Gov. Brad Henry said he will sign the bill if it arrives on his desk.

C) 2002 Oklahoma Daily via U-WIRE